Photo: The Ranch at Rock Creek
Hotel: The Ranch at Rock Creek
Location: Philipsburg, Montana
Background: Owner/investment banker Jim Manley grew up in New Jersey but was always obsessed with old Westerns and cowboys. It was his lifelong dream to buy a ranch and he searched the West for 20 years for the perfect property — high-alpine feel in a low-valley elevation, a river running through it, and no poisonous snakes. When Rock Creek came up for sale in 2007, Manley paid $25 million for the 6,600-acre old mining claim on the spot. At first, the stunning ranch was only a getaway for his friends, family, and clients, but Manley decided it was too selfish not to share the love with the public and turned into it a five-star, all-inclusive guest ranch. Now celebs and regular folk alike flock to the Montana hot spot.
When to go: Peak season is June 10 to September 6, and during the holidays, but plenty of outdoor activities are offered year-round.
Gwen Stefani Instagrammed these photos and video from Montana. Did Blake Shelton take them? (Photos: @gwenstefani /Instagram)
The vibe: Like you’re living inside a Ralph Lauren catalogue. The Ranch is ultra-exclusive (a.k.a., crazy expensive) but not even slightly pretentious. You may find yourself drinking whiskey with the likes of Carrie Underwood. In fact, The Voice judge Gwen Stefani visited right before her hot new romance with co-star Blake Shelton went public. The staff couldn’t confirm if he came, too, but if the couple rented the secluded, private Trapper cabin lodging, nobody would ever know they were there. LeAnn Rimes is a regular and has been known to lead campfire sing-a-longs until dawn. Everyone hangs in plaid shirts and jeans, and dons cowboy hats and old dusty cowboy boots borrowed from the Rod and Gun Club. Designer Jet Zarkadas has created an atmosphere that feels super-chic yet country-comfy. Every inch of the ranch is decorated tastefully with frontier antiques and cowboy doodads — even the bar stools are real saddles. Giddy up!
What I loved: It’s all about homegrown loyalty here. The gourmet meals, prepared with precision and love by Executive Chef Josh Drage, are organic and sourced locally, featuring Montana-raised beef, lamb, chicken, and seasonal produce. For breakfast, I had lemon ricotta pancakes and elk sausage with my fluffy scrambled eggs. The Birdman multi-grain toast, which you can pick up at Le Petit Café in Philipsburg on your way out of town, was my favorite. I couldn’t wait to order stacks of it every morning. Dinners are long, multi-course tasting menus. Standout dishes include the Montana Bison short ribs and Monk Fish with pumpkin seed pesto, paired with Oregon wine, or craft lagers/ales from Philipsburg Brewing Company. I also sampled spirits from popular local purveyor Montgomery Distillery, including its first ever Early Release Straight Rye Whiskey.
Photo: The Ranch at Rock Creek/Facebook
Don’t miss: Don’t worry, you’ll work that food and booze off with so many sporty activities. In the summer, guests can sign up for horseback riding, fly-fishing, shooting pistols and rifles, hiking, and a challenging ropes course. But winter here is just as awesome. Some may just want to hole up and Netflix and chill by a fire in their luxurious cabins, while the more adventurous can venture out into the elements and go snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or downhill skiing at nearby Discovery Ski Area. Also, each guest is provided with a mountain bike and you’ll find yourself happily pedaling around the property waving to passerby with a silly grin on your face.
By the end of the week, you’ll be BFFs with everyone on the ranch, from your fellow guests to the attentive, friendly staff, who moonlight every Tuesday in the rodeo and will two-step right next to you during the Saturday night dance in the gorgeous Buckle Barn. The service is outstanding and the attention to detail impeccable. The country bands that play every night in the lodge and saloon could be on CMT. Oh, and the best part is that they really do mean “all-inclusive.” You won’t open your wallet the entire stay and there’s no ATM for miles — literally.
What I Didn’t Love: Though the multi-course dinners were delicious and a great bonding experience with fellow guests, they were extremely long. By the time we finished, we were so full and tired from all the fresh air, it was hard to rally to go over to the saloon for live music, drinking and bowling. I wished there was a more casual option — which they do provide for lunch in the Canteen. Also, to say the cost is prohibitive would be an understatement. This is definitely a vacation for 1-Percenters.
Photo: The Ranch at Rock Creek/Facebook
The lodging: The Ranch can host up to 125 guests in peak season, in four kinds of accommodations. Rooms in The Granite Lodge or historic barn, Glamping Cabins that sit right on the creek (cabins are closed in the colder months), or luxury homes that can host up to six people. I was fortunate enough to stay in Sara Jane’s cottage, an adorable 2,500 square foot, two-story cabin with private deck, bathrooms en-suite (one has an antique copper soaking tub for two), and full kitchen (not sure why you need it since the food is gourmet, organic, delicious). Rates for lodge, barn, and Glamping start at about $1000 per person per night; rates for luxury homes range from about $4700 to $7100 per night and include your own squad of cows grazing peacefully in your backyard. Some minimum stays required.
Getting there: Missoula International Airport is a 1.5 hour drive or 22-minute helicopter ride to The Ranch. Van transportation to and from The Ranch is provided for a fee, though early bookers for 2016 may receive free rides. Private drivers are available for $225 each way from Missoula or Butte. During summer season, Delta and United add direct flights from major cities to Missoula. Private aircraft can also land at Bowman Field Airport in Anaconda or Riddick Field in Philipsburg, both under an hour drive to The Ranch.